Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Albert Ayler - Quartets 1964: Spirits To Ghosts Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2019)

In 1964, tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler was at the height of his power, at the forefront of the free jazz “new thing” and playing his instrument in a unique manner that made the most use of simple themes and a completely individual tone and instrumental attack. This was the year of Spiritual Unity, his magnum opus on the ESP label, and these recordings are of a similar level, consisting of two sessions, the first from February with Norman Howard on trumpet, Sunny Murray on drums and either Henry Grimes or Earl Henderson on bass. Their playing on “Prophecy” and Witches and Devils” is extraordinary, with Ayler's massive tenor saxophone tone enveloping the whole proceedings and the imagination of his improvisations is completely unfettered, he is playing at a high speed, using these brief and memorable themes as a jumping off point and then taking the music off into the most imaginative places possible. Sunny Murray and Henry Grimes are excellent in this role, playing in a very free and unfettered manner that is supportive to the saxophonist and the collective improvisations that the band convenes as well. The second session is from November of that year with Don Cherry on trumpet, Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. They would play two excellent versions of one of his most well known songs, “Ghosts,” with it's longing and spectral melody. There is a longer one at the beginning of the session that stretches out nearly eight minutes in length and allows Alyer's billowing saxophone to fill the chilling theme to the point of giving goosebumps and then, extrapolating on it in unexpected ways. Cherry was an open vessel, whether playing with Ayler, Coleman, Coltrane or Rollins, and he's typically excellent here as a foil to the leader's playing and also soloing in an excellent fashion on “Vibrations” and the beautiful closer “Children.” The whole band is improvising at a fantastic level on Ayler's speaking in tongues special “Holy Spirit” where he channels a spiritual upbringing, the deep blues and the music of the spheres to lead the band into the unknown on a fearless performance that encapsulates his art and vision. This was an excellent album, one that illuminates and frames the brilliance of the music that was made on Spiritual Unity, and shows that far from a one-off, he was having the finest year of his all to brief career. This album is from a new subsidiary of HatHut Records called ezz-thetics (a nod to the composer George Russell) and comes in a nice sleeve with excellent liner notes from Art Lange.  Quartets 1964: Spirits To Ghosts Revisited - amazon.com

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